Despite the evergreen theme, Julia’s whining is more likely to turn readers off than help them relate to her.

THE BATTLE OF DARCY LANE

As soon as new neighbor Alyssa shows up, Taylor is mesmerized, leaving best friend Julia feeling threatened.

Immediately after 12-year-old Julia has bemoaned the boredom of hanging around her swimming pool with Taylor all summer, Alyssa enters the scene. Alyssa makes an unwelcome comment about Julia’s unicorn-themed T-shirt, so Julia makes fun of Russia, the ball game Alyssa has begun to teach Taylor. Thus begins an escalating conflict, fueled mostly by Alyssa’s cruelty and Taylor’s complicity, which peaks with Alyssa’s challenge to Julia to a one-on-one Russia tournament. Julia’s overbearing but “often right” mother quickly arranges for Julia to spend two weeks at music camp, where Julia partially recovers her sense of self. Before the final Russia showdown—postponed once by the emergence of 17-year cicadas—readers learn about less-than-cool Wendy, loyal to Julia but dandruff-blighted; Julia’s crush on her neighbor Peter; Julia’s first bra; and why Julia’s dream bedroom has been temporarily put on hold. The novel’s underlying tone of superiority, supported by the implicit assurance that life gets better for people who are “passionate about stuff,” is confirmed in the ending acknowledgments: “And an extra special thanks to the two girls who made my life on Albourne Avenue so miserable. Victory is mine.”

Despite the evergreen theme, Julia’s whining is more likely to turn readers off than help them relate to her. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: April 22, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7624-4948-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Running Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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A smart, fresh take on an old favorite makes for a terrific series kickoff

THE GREAT SHELBY HOLMES

From the Shelby Holmes series , Vol. 1

A modern Sherlock Holmes retelling brings an 11-year-old black John Watson into the sphere of know-it-all 9-year-old white detective Shelby Holmes.

John's an Army brat who's lived in four states already. Now, with his parents' divorce still fresh, the boy who's lived only on military bases must explore the wilds of Harlem. His new life in 221A Baker St. begins inauspiciously, as before he's even finished moving in, his frizzy-haired neighbor blows something up: "BOOM!" But John's great at making friends, and Shelby certainly seems like an interesting kid to know. Oddly loquacious, brusque, and extremely observant, Shelby's locally famous for solving mysteries. John’s swept up in her detecting when a wealthy, brown-skinned classmate enlists their help in the mysterious disappearance of her beloved show dog, Daisy. Whatever could have happened to the prizewinning Cavalier King Charles spaniel? Has she been swiped by a jealous competitor? Has Daisy’s trainer—mysteriously come into enough money to take a secret weekend in Cozumel—been placing bets against his own dog? Brisk pacing, likable characters, a few silly Holmes jokes ("I'm Petunia Cumberbatch," says Shelby while undercover), and a diverse neighborhood, carefully and realistically described by John, are ingredients for success.

A smart, fresh take on an old favorite makes for a terrific series kickoff . (Mystery. 9-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-68119-051-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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Contrived at some points, polemic at others, but a stout defense of the right to read.

BAN THIS BOOK

A shy fourth-grader leads the revolt when censors decimate her North Carolina school’s library.

In a tale that is dominated but not overwhelmed by its agenda, Gratz takes Amy Anne, a young black bibliophile, from the devastating discovery that her beloved From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler has been removed from the library at the behest of Mrs. Spencer, a despised classmate’s mom, to a qualified defense of intellectual freedom at a school board meeting: “Nobody has the right to tell you what books you can and can’t read except your parents.” Meanwhile, as more books vanish, Amy Anne sets up a secret lending library of banned titles in her locker—a ploy that eventually gets her briefly suspended by the same unsympathetic principal who fires the school’s doctorate-holding white librarian for defiantly inviting Dav Pilkey in for an author visit. Characters frequently serve as mouthpieces for either side, sometimes deadly serious and other times tongue-in-cheek (“I don’t know about you guys, but ever since I read Wait Till Helen Comes, I’ve been thinking about worshipping Satan”). Indeed, Amy Anne’s narrative is positively laced with real titles that have been banned or challenged and further enticing teasers for them.

Contrived at some points, polemic at others, but a stout defense of the right to read. (discussion guide) (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7653-8556-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Starscape/Tom Doherty

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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